By Max R. Weller
Read the profile of Charlie Armstrong by Whitney Bryen in the Times-Call. Quoting from it below:
Charlie Armstrong is up with the sun.
The thin walls of his $6 thrift store tent make it difficult to sleep in on sunny days.
Rays of light slice through holes in the Nylon, like spotlights illuminating the three ragged sleeping bags and a worn blanket that make up his bed.
This is home.
Besides the early wake-up call Thursday morning, Armstrong, 60, said he doesn’t mind the sun. It’s already one of the warmest days this year at his camp in Lyons, which means he didn’t have to run his single-burner propane heater — the only heat source at his camp — to stay warm the night before.
He turns the heater on just long enough to warm up some water for tea, conserving what little propane he has left.
Armstrong prefers coffee but he is out and his monthly disability check hasn’t arrived yet, so he has to dip into the stash of tea that he keeps around as a back up.
These are the ups and downs that Armstrong faces everyday as a homeless man in Boulder County.
“I’ve been living in the woods and it’s really good for me because there’s no smell of traffic, no noise and it’s just so refreshing to be in mother nature,” Armstrong said. “My other choice is to be homeless in the park somewhere. But I have a saying that some people go homeless and some people go camping. I’m camping.”
Charlie Armstrong, who lives in the Roosevelt National Forest west of Lyons, brushes his hair before hitchhiking to Longmont. (Lewis Geyer/Longmont Times-Call)
I understand Charlie’s feelings. However, I don’t want to do without my morning shower at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, which is why I’ve chosen to camp nearby for over six years now. And, because of my physical disabilities, I don’t think it wise for me to hitchhike, either.
He admits that homelessness is a choice but one that has been made more difficult by his struggle with mental illness.
Schizophrenia and severe depression have plagued Armstrong for decades, sending him into emotional tailspins that have led to eviction or arrest, usually being removed from a park for camping illegally.
Medication is helping. Pills keep the schizophrenic episodes at bay. Marijuana calms his nerves and keeps his mood-swings in check.
“I don’t suffer everyday, but I do suffer a lot from poverty and mental illness,” Armstrong said. “I’m medicated so that keeps the suffering down.”
Mental illness was the top cause of homelessness for 15 percent of Boulder County homeless surveyed in the 2013 Point-in-Time assessment, behind job loss, housing costs and family problems.
As long as Charlie remains self-aware of his mental health issues, and continues to take his meds and seek the support he needs, why shouldn’t he be left alone to live life as he sees fit?
Some of you may not believe this, but it’s true: Transition Program clients at BSH and Ready-to-Work clients at Bridge House have problems just as serious as Charlie’s — and nobody in charge monitors them to make sure they remain compliant with prescribed meds. That’s one reason those programs have such low rates of long-term success (despite any claims to the contrary by their proponents, who want your financial support). Another reason for failure is that clients frequently relapse into substance abuse, and the programs cited above offer only “zero tolerance” to address that struggle.
Charlie Armstrong has something the program participants are lacking: coping skills to live outdoors so that he can enjoy his freedom. More power to him.
Right now, Armstrong has consistent access to the medication he needs but that hasn’t always been the case. He worries about what will happen next time the pills are not available.
Armstrong relies heavily on the Longmont drop-in center Soft Voices for assistance getting his medication and basic needs like food and companionship.
The nonprofit drop-in center provides a safe space for clients like Armstrong to socialize without the fear of being judged, said volunteer Wanda Ferguson. It’s a safe space for socializing and art therapy that serves about 40 clients per week, she said.
Armstrong hitchhikes more than 16 miles four days a week from his camp to the center at 501 Collyer St., which provides support for people with mental illnesses.
“Soft Voices is my only real connection to people,” Armstrong said. “I’m out here alone every day. Those four days a week that I go to the center is the only human contact I have during the week with other people at the center. It’s like a family there.”
I can’t imagine anybody saying that about the zoo in downtown Boulder, CO known as Bridge House which caters to and enables the worst-behaved transients (who prey on other homeless people).
Good luck to you, Charlie! Don’t let the do-gooders get hold of you and put you in a program.
More drunks passing out in my neighborhood of north Boulder on Tuesday afternoon, including Pickled Bill who had been transported by ambulance to detox last Saturday after returning to out fair city. This time, however, Bill’s drunken slumbers were interrupted by the ambulance’s siren as paramedics responded to an unconscious drunk chick right in front of The Amazing Garage Sale. I’ll call her Broom-Hilda because she also has a LARGE WART on the end of her nose:
I can’t stand her at all. Despite receiving a monthly disability check, Broom-Hilda is always trying to mooch off of other homeless people. Disrespecting a legitimate business and the neighborhood in general is right up her alley.
As I said, the ambulance’s siren awakened Pickled Bill, who might have thought they were coming for him again, and he staggered past me down the sidewalk — briefly stopping to ask ME if I could loan him some money. No way.
The Good News is that workers yesterday cut down all of the brush which had grown up during the past two years in the roadside ditch (4900 block of N. Broadway), and the inebriates have nowhere to hide now. Broom-Hilda wasn’t even trying to hide, of course, but most of ’em do.
I hope I have the chance to dry out my camping gear before showers return, but if not the wool-blend disaster blankets retain heat even when wet. I’ve managed to acquire three of these, which should be sufficient to the task.
That’s all for now, folks.